Friday, 18 June 2010

Relocating from Oz to the Netherlands

So what made them move from Australia to Holland?’ was my son’s remark, as we made our way round the puddles towards their flat. ‘That’s a very good question and one of the first things I’m going to ask them’ I said. The apartment of Meredith Tavener and Peter Tooley (also in the Indian neighbourhood in Groningen) is only a five-block walk from ours, is very spacious and flooded by light through its large windows. We were greeted by equally large smiles and voices with a recognizable Australian twang.

Meredith is the reason they made the move, exchanging Perth in Australia for The Netherlands. They arrived 11th January 2010, right in the middle of a real snowy winter. Such extreme weather was something completely new to them coming previously from a heat of 47 degrees. It seems that after she had completed her PhD, Meredith thought it would be interesting to find employment out of her then academic environment, which although pleasant, no longer provided her with a much needed challenge. So, she began to look around. First efforts brought up a job at Oxford University in England, which would have been a marvellous opportunity, had it not been for the fact that she would most probably be competing against the world and his wife for the position! Next she found a position in Groningen at the University and thought I can do that!’ Two interviews later she was hired.

Both Meredith and Peter were used to moving regularly from place to place (because of work) in Australia and inventorying their lives down to how many forks they owned. They think this made their shift from, Australia to Europe, and into expatriates’ status, somewhat easier.

Now where is Peter in all this? Before the move, Peter worked in military aviation. He had spent the last eighteen years of his life doing this and earning a good salary. But he decided to give up his job and follow his wife in search of adventure. While Meredith works Peter is taking his time to find out exactly what step he would like to take next. He says that at the moment he feels as though he can’t just walk down the street and say ‘gidday’, to people as he did in Oz, not knowing how it would be received. He says his ‘compass’ is adjusting to a new hemisphere, which must be strange for someone with a job where navigation was an integral part.

Nonetheless they are both very enthusiastic to learn the Dutch language, but unlike their European counterparts (who generally have a knowledge of a minimum of two foreign languages) getting their heads round actually learning a language, has been quite a challenge. They decided to bring in a private tutor to get things rolling, so that one day soon they will be able to finally decipher their mail and find out if the news reader on TV actually makes sense. In the meantime, when they don’t understand something, they call upon the help of friends, colleagues and Connect as well as making use of those often rather interesting online translation websites, which give a vague idea of a document’s contents, in between some very hilarious literal translations.

Looking around their modern apartment I see brightly coloured painted canvases leant up against the walls and ask who’s the artist. Meredith laughs at the term ‘artist’, saying she started dabbling with paint as therapy, whilst she was taking her PhD. The canvases have travelled with them as instant décor for their new apartment. Peter too, is a creative soul and has an interest in photography, which he would like to really like to get into now, seeing as he has the time to do so.

Both Meredith and Peter are happy to be in Europe, not only to see what The Netherlands has to offer, but also to discover more about its neighbouring countries. Travel is something they enjoy and with past trips across Australia, often covering thousands of kilometres, they find it a refreshing change that distances here, around town or to work, are a lot shorter and can be done either on foot or by bicycle.

Paintings: Meredith Tavener & Photos: Peter Tooley

© Alison Day 
First published in the Connections magazine #27, Spring 2010

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